The Sa'udi government has traditionally not given priority to environmental protection, but in recent years it has become concerned about the continuing encroachment of sand dunes on agricultural land, the preservation and development of water resources, and pollution and sanitation problems. Legislation enacted in May 1978 forbids the felling of trees and regulates the protection of forestland. Sa'udi Arabia's natural environment was threatened by the Persian Gulf War.
The dumping of up to six million barrels of oil in the surrounding waters and the destruction of Kuwait's oil wells by fire polluted the nation's air and water. Sa'udi Arabia has 2.4 cubic kilometers of renewable water resources with 90% used for farming and 1% used for industrial purposes. Only 64% of the nation's rural population have access to safe drinking water. At current rates of consumption, the nation's water supply may be exhausted in 10–20 years. Sa'udi Arabia's cities produce an average of 4.8 million tons of solid waste per year. Sa'udi Arabia has signed the 1954 Convention for the Prevention of Pollution of the Sea by Oil. Under the 1976–80 and 1980–85 development plans, new desalination facilities were built, and urban sewage, waste, and storm drainage facilities were constructed.
The Directorate General for Environmental Protection is responsible for environmental protection measures and preservation of natural resources. In the late 1970s, the 'Asir Kingdom Park, in the southwest, was created to preserve the landforms, flora, and fauna of the 'Asir region, which forms part of the Great Rift Valley.
As of 2001, 2.3% of Sa'udi Arabia's total land area is protected. In the same year, 9 of the nation's mammal species and 11 types of birds were endangered. One type of plant was threatened with extinction. Endangered species in Sa'udi Arabia include the Asiatic cheetah (possibly extinct), South Arabian leopard, northern bald ibis, and two species of turtle (green sea and hawksbill). The Arabian gazelle, Queen of Sheba's gazelle, Sa'udi gazelle, and the Syrian wild ass have become extinct.